For the police, November begins with a series of cheering announcements. All over the world, agencies are starting to show promise in quelling DarkNet activities. Several criminal organizations were busted, whereby thousands of DarkNet users face trouble with the law.
Neither the DarkNet nor Bitcoin protects criminals against prosecution. The events of last week urgently proved that the scope of law enforcement does not stop at the gates of the Onion Web.
Several enforcement agencies around the world spread out to clean up the allegedly opaque hidden corners of the internet. The press releases of the authorities stay secretive about how they identified the criminals through the encrypted channels, but it is clear that international cooperation played a major role in the success about cybercrime. You could say that a global crime bears the need for global policing.
In Berlin, Germany, a “potential buyer of weapons” was arrested for ordering a 9mm handgun in the darknet. The police seized the computer of the man, aged 33, and the ammunition for the weapon he previously ordered in the darknet. Why the man wanted to have a weapon remains unclear, but according to the police terrorism seems not to be a reason. He faces imprisonment, and will not get back the bitcoin he used to buy the pistol, as the police report explains.
The arrest of the weapon buyer from Berlin happened in cooperation with international law enforcement agencies. It is possible it was part of “Operation Hyperion,” a global operation against the DarkNet, initiated by U.S. federal law enforcement, the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ Law Enforcement Group, that includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, and members of Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency.
On October 28, the agencies started to engage in a coordinated fashion against the buyers and sellers on DarkNet markets. Besides the selling and buying of drugs, the prosecuted crimes included the trade with “counterfeit prescription drugs and other counterfeit items, dangerous and deadly synthetic drugs like Fentanyl, deadly toxins, fake and stolen identities, identity documents and stolen credit card data, as well as illegal services like computer hacking, murder for hire, and money laundering.” According to the FBI, more than 150 people around the world have been contacted during Operation Hyperion, with some confessing, who are suspected to have used DarkNet markets to buy illicit items, mostly drugs.
Other law enforcement agencies have more suspects. According to PCWorld the police of Sweden has a list of more than 3,000 people suspected of buying drugs on DarkNet markets. The list was a result of the bust of the six biggest Swedish online drug dealers during the last 12 years. In New Zealand, police suspect more than 160 people for having bought drugs on the internet. During Operation Hyperion the police of New Zealand arrested six people and handed out 66 formal warnings.
Meanwhile, the police of the Netherland started an unconventional attempt to prevent cybercrime. They build a warning website, both in the clearnet as in the Onion Web, that says, “the Police and the Judicial Authorities of the Netherlands are not only active in the real world, but also in all corners of the Internet. Here we track people who are active at Dark Markets and who offer illicit goods or services there. Are you one of them? Then you have our attention.” Below this text visitors find three columns with names and pseudonyms; active vendors in the darknet, busted vendors, identified buyers.
Deepdotweb, some kind of an “industry blog” for the darknet, is filled with reports of busts. Besides those already noted, there are reports about two arrested weapon buyers in Belgium, the bust of a drug dealing ring in Kiev, Ukraine, and of a child pornography organization from Italy and Australia.
How the police succeeded in identifying so many users of DarkNet markets remains unclear. PCWorld refers to a video showing US police officers searching postal packages. Forbes, however, reports about on the lecture of US attorney, Kathryn Haun, who told her audience that mixers and tumblers are not working as people commonly expect. Maybe it is a combination of blockchain analytics and real-life investigations that break the would be anonymity of the DarkNet, as well as worldwide cooperation.